(Updated: I asked the candidates several questions, and posted the answer to the wrong question for all the candidates. I have corrected it below.)
I invited all candidates running for the District 4 Seattle City Council seat to share their thoughts on the crisis around homelessness that our city is facing, and offered to reprint their answers here. I heard back from Alex Pedersen, Emily Myers and Cathy Tuttle, who’s answers I share here.
(Reminder: Ballots must be in by Tuesday, August 6th. The ballot dropboxes will close at 8 pm.)
Question: There is a growing frustration in the neighborhood with the rise in petty theft, vandalism and property crime, and a perception that police are either indifferent, under-resourced or both. What policies would you advocate in your role as City Council representative to address this?
The common ground on the regional homelessness crisis is the desire to solve the problem. Compassion requires results. As someone who worked at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) during the Clinton Administration and has over 15 years of experience preserving low-income housing, I believe I am the candidate with most relevant experience to address homelessness. The City Council must (1) Cooperate with our Mayor to consolidate efforts with King County and measure outcomes on this regional crisis and (2) Fund only programs proven to work.
- It’s high time for a comprehensive regional plan with relevant performance metrics and outcome goals visible to all, so that we ensure we are truly helping the most people experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, this City Council failed to prioritize the homelessness crisis like they should have over the past few years, instead spending too much time on divisive land use / zoning changes. Just this past week, the City Council was still arguing about which performance outcomes to measure and how residents should report unauthorized homeless encampments. I will work collaboratively and persistently with our Mayor to achieve the necessary coordination with King County on mental health and drug addiction programs. This accountability from both the city and the county can rebuild the trust not only of frustrated city residents but also of the business and philanthropy communities.
- As the chief funder of programs that provide services and create low-income housing, City Hall must be held accountable for how it spends your tax dollars to address this crisis. I will use my extensive background in low-income housing and commitment to accountability to fund only data-driven best practices proven to prevent and reduce homelessness as we have seen in other cities. Other cities have reduced homelessness because they adhered to evidence-based strategies and applied them across their entire homeless response systems. These solutions have been highlighted for years by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness under the Obama Administration and the National Alliance to End Homelessness such as:
- Housing First
- Permanent Supportive Housing, including less expensive but high-quality modular housing
- Enhanced, low-barrier emergency shelter that exit people to permanent housing
- Diversion for the newly homeless
- Coordinated Entry
- Homeward Bound
- “By Name Lists”
- Rapid Rehousing
- Long-Term Stayers focus
- Landlord-Liaison (which is being reinvigorated into the “Housing Connector”)
We should also stop demolishing existing, naturally occurring affordable housing or ensure it is immediately replaced.
To be truly compassionate toward people experiencing homelessness, our government leaders must get results. It’s time for a change.
(Learn more at Alex Pedersen’s campaign website.)
In a city with growing wealth and rising wages, it is a failure of our systems that we have so many people living unsheltered and without stable homes. A plan to address homelessness must be multi-faceted and evidence-based, recognizing the diverse needs of people in our city facing homelessness. We believe in solutions that provide housing first, protect the dignity and property rights of all people, and, when possible, prevent people from entering homelessness to begin with.
We have to build permanent supportive housing with wraparound services including case workers, occupational therapists, and peer support groups. We must better monitor and track population of people experiencing chronic homelessness to facilitate transition into permanent supportive housing as it is built. In the short term: we must employ case-workers not navigators to support transition out of homelessnessm provide adequate garbage services and restroom access to encampments until we have sufficient permanent housing, expand tiny house village and housing first apartment models which provide 24 hour access and allow families to stay together, legalize lot use and provide restrooms for those sleeping in cars, and ensure safe shelter options for LGBTQIA+ people experiencing homelessness.
We should also increase the options for homelessness prevention and diversion: providing legal and financial support to people about to lose their homes, provide rent subsidies or downpayment support to divert people from homelessness, and add caseworkers to support teens and young adults facing homelessness and connect them with potential long-term housing options with friends or family. Finally, we have to be addressing our affordable housing crisis with zoning reform and permanently affordable public housing, including deeply affordable housing.
(Learn more about Emily Myers’ campaign website.)
In my 35 years in Seattle, I ‘ve never seen so many people in tents, lean-tos, and boxes along our freeways, in parks, along our streets. As a Seattle Parks planner, I was aware of homelessness while planning park maintenance and design. As a community activist, I volunteered for Family Works, Solid Ground, and the One Night Count. My understanding of the causes of and solutions to our homeless crisis have grown exponentially running for council.
I’ve spoken with experts working to reduce homelessness across the country, and in Seattle, to pinpoint the most effective actions we can take to comprehensively address homelessness in this city. This is a complex problem that requires many different solutions. Homelessness is visible on Seattle streets and in parks, but we often don’t think about the 10% of Seattle school children who do not have homes, or the hardworking parents who had to fix their car, fell behind on a week of rent, and were evicted onto the street. This is where I will use my decades of experience as an effective city advocate to identify what solutions work and, most importantly, put plans into action. Over 11,500 people have no homes in the Puget Sound region: homelessness has become a regional crisis that has worsened into an emergency.
Here are some of my plans to respond to the homelessness emergency:
1. Meet World Health Organization guidelines for refugee encampments: provide drinking water, handwashing, toilets, sharps containers, and waste containers. We must provide regular public health services to homeless residents and identify public land (not parks or school yards) where temporary sanctioned encampments can be set up. This isn’t a permanent solution, but a public health solution that provides immediate relief.
2. Diversion. I will expand diversion programs. The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program has proven a success at diverting our homeless population from the streets or jail into the mental health or substance abuse programs they need. This is compassionate, practical, and evidenced-based.
3. Address root causes. The best way of addressing homelessness long term is preventing homelessness in the first place. Many people end up on the streets after they miss just a month of rent or mortgage payments.
Seattle rents are skyrocketing, affordable old apartments are torn down and replaced with pricey condos. More people will end up on the streets. That’s why, as a simple first measure, I’m calling for the extension of eviction notices as well as more legal support for renters. Many people, especially our neighbors living on fixed incomes, cannot afford to pay mortgages and property taxes. I will expand programs of tax and mortgage offsets.
4.We need more housing. Our nurses, teachers, baristas, and firefighters simply don’t have enough housing options within their grasp. Our retired population is pushed out of the homes they grew up in because of rent and property tax hikes. We need to build, build, build more housing of all types for all of our neighbors.
Most importantly, throughout this process, I will continue listening to you. That’s why, when elected, I will have an in-district office so you do not have to come all the way downtown to bring up your concerns. I have knocked on doors for 6 hours in District 4 every day, rain or shine so I can hear from you. I promise to keep listening.
(Learn more at Cathy Tuttle’s campaign website.)